The spread of QR code-based digital quarantine systems has made digital surveillance a reality for the first time for most people on the mainland. While many credit the system with allowing China to emerge from lockdowns after only a few weeks, mainland commentators are also worrying about the privacy and governance implications of what some call a growing “digital Leviathan.” Many assume that the system will outlive the epidemic it was built to control.

Wang Rong, a researcher at Tencent’s internal think tank, worries that China’s legal privacy framework isn’t up to the task of ensuring privacy for Health Code users. He argues that China’s policies should more closely follow Europe’s GDPR framework, which clearly delineates between data processors (the role Tencent and Ali have played) and controllers (the government). Wang argues that the government should be held accountable on a number of dimensions for digital quarantine. 

Yan Hailu, a political economy researcher, traced back the growth of China’s surveillance state to 9/11 in The Initium, a Hong Kong-based outlet.  

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Jordan Schneider

Jordan Schneider is a freelancer based in Beijing and the host of the ChinaEconTalk podcast.